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Small Talk: Taking no chances on Friday the 13th

How cool is this October? It not only has Halloween, but it has a Friday the 13th. I got my best report card ever on a Friday the 13th, and have since insisted it is my lucky day. It may not be, but it kind of takes the edge off.

I am quite certain that I have no control over life’s whims, but my Irish paternal grandmother, Ethel O’Brien, would not agree. She grew up in New York, but carried all her Irish forbears’ superstitions with her well into the 1970s. She never spilled salt without throwing a pinch of it over her left shoulder, to ward off the bad luck. My dad laughed about it, yet somehow always did it himself.

On a Friday the 13th, there are those who simply take to their beds or refuse to leave the house. The best part about it, besides an excuse to stay in bed, is that the diagnosed phobia of Friday the 13th is called “Paraskevidekatriaphobia.”

My grandmother simply would not sit at a table set for 13 people and many a family gathering required some shuffling and reshuffling to be sure no ill luck would befall us.

If she left the house and had to come back for something, she would turn around three times before leaving again. And one of her favorite sayings, when she would hear me whistling, was “Whistling girls and cackling hens, never come to any good ends.”

Ethel would never dream of having a feather in her house, as that was begging for bad luck. Our peacock feather souvenirs from the zoo used to have to stay in the car. And, heaven forbid, if a bird got in the house, it meant someone would die. 

She was certain it was good news if your palm itched, because you would soon come into some money. And she had no time for cats, black or otherwise, but if a black cat crossed your path, you had to count to nine. And I remember hearing “See a penny, pick it up. All the day, you’ll have good luck,” from my earliest visits to my grandparents.

You can’t, of course, forget the luck of a four-leafed clover and I remember hours on my stomach in the clover searching for one. And I recall some reference to the weather on St. Swithin’s Day (July 15) predicting the rest of the summer.

We teased her endlessly, but she never wavered. And now that I recall she lived to be 100, with a sharp mind (insisting she was only 90), perhaps I should rethink my skepticism. I think that means I’m going back to bed.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and daughter of an Irishman who may be knocking on some wood today. Contact her at [email protected]